{September 26, 2012}   The Brown Book Mystery

Growing up, my parents didn’t read stories to us. We didn’t have books in the house and the only thing that came close was the funnies in the Sunday newspaper. But once a year Mother would read  The Night Before Christmas. I couldn’t wait to hear how the “visions of sugar plums” danced in children’s heads. I tried to understand every word, asking her to pause after each line so I could unravel the mystery of Santa–how did he fly around the world in a single night? I knew that was true because on the news, the weatherman pointed to where Santa’s sleigh was on the radar screen. “The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth” So, Santa smoked? Isn’t that bad?  “Laying a finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose…” Magic.  I asked her to read it over and over. By the time I was seven I had the whole poem memorized. I would lie awake in bed trying to figure out clues in the poem that might lead to Santa’s secrets.

By second grade, I could read but I couldn’t see the chalk board unless I sat in the front row. The teacher sent home a note and a doctor said I needed glasses. Mother said it was because I had “strained my eyes doing all that reading.” I didn’t mind glasses. That was great news. I had wanted a pair of glasses since the first grade. I liked the way they looked. They made people look smart.

Back when I was in first grade, I wanted glasses, so I made myself some. I poked out the dark lenses in a pair of sunglasses Mother threw away. I wore the frames to school thinking everyone would like my new glasses. Instead, I got questions about why I wore sunglasses without the lenses. I decided I had to make clear lenses to go in the frames if I was going to convince anyone.

I looked around the house for something that looked like glass to put in the frames. I checked my toy box. Nothing. I went into the kitchen and found a roll of clear plastic wrap. That could work! Next I needed something to hold the plastic wrap in the frame. I found a roll of black tape. I spent all afternoon making a pair of glasses out of plastic wrap and black tape.

I tried out the glasses at school the next day. I couldn’t see through the plastic wrap, so I took them off and on. Nobody said anything about them. They acted like they didn’t notice. I wore the glasses all morning. Then it was time for lunch. Every day the teacher picked out someone to come to the front of the room and say a blessing before we lined up. That day, the teacher chose me. I walked to the front of the room wearing my glasses. She turned off the lights to signal it’s time to bow our heads. A boy’s voice shouted from the back of the room. “Take off those stupid glasses!” My teacher said nothing. I could hear quiet giggling. I quickly removed my glasses and put them in my pocket. I had fooled no one.

By the time I was in third grade, I had a real pair of glasses–blue frames with cat-eyed corners. Now, I hated wearing glasses. I didn’t think they made me look smart at all. I had to wear them all the time because my eyes were so bad. I wanted to look like Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl where she played a researcher in a white coat who nervously removed her glasses, cleaned them and put them back on every time Tony Curtis came near her. But my glasses looked nothing like hers.

That summer, I read all the Nancy Drew books I could find. She was brave and took risks that led her to the truth. My favorites were The Sign of the Twisted Candle and The Clue in the Diary. Like Nancy, I was on the lookout for a mystery to solve. I wondered about the book I saw Mother reading at the pool when she took us for swim lessons. She carried the book with her every time we went to the pool. She would sit for hours absorbed in its pages. I couldn’t see the cover because there was brown paper folded over it. I tried sneaking up behind her to look over her shoulder, but she put the book face down and ordered me back to the pool. It was very mysterious. Odd to see her read a book! I had to know what she was reading. I waited for her to leave it unguarded so I could sneak and take a look.

I finally got my chance when she put the book in her straw bag and went to the bathroom. I got out of the pool and looked around to make sure the coast was clear. Maybe this was too risky. If she saw me near her bag, she would be suspicious.  My heart was beating so hard I could hear it in my ears. Mother would be furious if she saw me snooping around. A trail of water dripped behind me from my swim suit, leading to the crime scene. If I was going to do this, it had to be fast. I tiptoed toward the chair and wiped my hands on her towel. I quickly reached into the bag, grabbed the book and opened it at the marker. There was a black and white picture of a man holding his penis in his hand. I shut the book quickly and put it back in the straw bag. Now I knew why she didn’t want me to see the book. I walked to the other side of the pool, as far away as I could. I had never seen a picture of a naked man. It was horrible. A whole book filled with bad words and naked pictures. I felt sick. Why did I have to see that? I jumped back into the pool and swam underwater so no one could see me, holding my breath for as long as I could stand it.


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